PROFILE

June has given her support to the Queen since the early 1980s

BY SIMON YAFFE

JUNE Kenton has had access to the Royals unlike anybody else - for she has fitted and supplied bras to the Queen and other members of the hierarchy since the 1980s.

But the petite powerhouse has done much more than that - so much so, that she has penned her life story in Storm in a D Cup (Troubador, 19.99).

June, together with husband Harold, transformed London's Rigby & Peller into one of the leading lingerie retailers of the world.

It now includes nine UK outlets and more than 40 across the globe, including in America, Hong Kong and Dubai.

June's other well-known clients included Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, prime minister Theresa May, and actresses Dawn French and Dame Joan Collins.

I spoke to the 81-year-old after she had returned to her Hertfordshire home from one of her regular visits to the gym.

"I have had a colourful life," June laughed. "Fortunately, I am well - it is important to keep yourself mobile.

"Some people think that once you get past 60, you should not be doing this or that!"

She recalled being "terrified" on her first visit to Buckingham Palace to measure the Queen, despite her company having a Royal Warrant.

"The Queen is wonderful - she is just a natural," June said. "I have been going to see her since 1982. The Queen Mother was adorable, too."

Mixing with royalty is a far cry from June's early years in north London.

One of four children born to Rachel and Harry Collier, she was evacuated to the Kent countryside during the Second World War.

The family's original surname was Coblenz, from Russia.

June loved the country so much that her parents agreed to let her stay there, attending the Lillesden School for Girls, a boarding school where she was one of only three Jewish pupils.

"It was an amazing place and I had a wonderful education," she recalled. "There was no antisemitism, not even one second of it."

June worked in her father's womenswear business when she was 16.

But the then-24-year-old had to sell the business after her father's death in order to look after her mum, who had undergone a brain operation.

June found salvation in the form of Phil Lee, an old supplier of her father's.

She explained: "Phil worked in the schmatta trade and phoned to see how my mum and I were getting on.

"I was quite bored so he asked me to work for him."

It was while working for Phil that she met husband Harold.

They married in 1962 and have two children, David and Jill.

Both of them were adopted as June and Harold found out that they could not have children.

David is a director of Rigby & Peller while Jill is a voiceover artist.

"I was more than devastated when we found out I could not have children," grandmother-of-three June said.

"But you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on.

"We went through the Knightsbridge Adoption Society, which was the only one which had Jewish children."

She and Harold bought a clothes shop in Brixton market and then opened another in Croydon, south London.

The third shop, Contour, opened in 1970. Situated next to Harrods, it sold lingerie.

And it was so successful, that, in 1982, Tessa Seidon, the owner of made-to-measure corsetiere Rigby & Peller, in Knightsbridge, asked if they would buy her struggling store.

Rigby & Peller's roots go back to 1939 when Bertha Rigby took in Hungarian Jewish refugee Gita Peller and opened a bespoke lingerie shop.

June and Harold bought the shop in 1982 for 20,000 and added made-to-measure lingerie to the existing bra alteration service.

They sold an 87 per cent stake of the firm to Belgian bra-maker Van de Velde for 8 million, just over five-and-a-half years ago.

June remains on the company's board, though.

She continued: "Many women, when we first started, were wearing the wrong bra size.

"They were unsure what to do, so we developed our own method to help.

"Also, at that time, the biggest bra size we stocked was D. We then went up to double D, for which there was a waiting list, but now we go right up to H in all different colours, as well. The selection is huge."

Ten years ago, June was diagnosed with breast cancer.

But she turned the devastating news into a positive through Rigby & Peller.

June created her own line of corrected-fit lingerie for mastectomy patients.

"We did mastectomy swimwear, too," she said.

The shop has had many well-known customers over the years.

June said of Diana, Princess of Wales: "She was very friendly. We would often go for lunch."

The famous photographs of Diana holidaying with Dodi Fayed in the summer of 1997, weeks before she died, featured her wearing swimwear supplied by June.

She described comedian Dawn French as "a natural, gorgeous person. I fitted her for years".

ITV made a documentary, Giving The Empire Relief, in 1993, which, led to "unbelievable queues", according to June, who has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the UK lingerie industry.

The shop also provided all the underwear and swimwear for Gok Wan's How to Look Good Naked.

June, who was awarded an honorary degree from Leeds Metropolitan University in recognition of her lifelong services to the British intimate apparel industry, has had an interesting life away from business, too.

A lifelong member of WIZO, she was alerted to the plight of Soviet Jews by Doreen Gainsford, a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry.

She was told about one woman, Sylva Zalmanson, who had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for her part in the Dymshits- Kuznetsov hijacking, where refuseniks attempted to steal a civilian aircraft to escape to the West.

June recalled: "It was like a spark in me. We did not want our children, in future years, to find out what had happened to the Soviet Jews and for us, their parents, to have done nothing."

She and her fellow protesters took to the streets, too.

They chained themselves to the gates of the Foreign Office, ran on to the pitch at Crystal Palace's Selhurt Park when they played then-Soviet side Dinamo Tbilisi and locked themselves in a Lada car at a motor show.

"We made a huge noise whenever the Russians were in this country," June explained.

A month before her 60th birthday in 1995, she completed her first charity trek, Mount Sinai to the Promised Land, in aid of the One to One Project, which raises funds for former refuseniks who had moved to Israel.

June did another four treks - and has raised around 30,000.

She is a strong supporter of the Jewish State and has a big link to Israel - for her husband Harold's brother, Jack, moved there when he was 21, Hebracised his name to Yaacov Keinan, and became ambassador to Brazil and Cameroon.

Three years ago, Harold was diagnosed with dementia.

June said: "We were joined at the hip. We did not do anything at all if it was not together.

"We have carers who look after Harold, but it is so hard for me.

"I sit and hold his hand - he is such a sweet-natured and gorgeous person.

"But if you think about things too much, it can be debilitating.

"I just hope Harold does not become worse and that we can still live wonderfully together and see our grandchildren married."

 
© 2017 Jewish Telegraph

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